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30 Life Lessons From Chinese Billionaire Jack Ma

30 Life Lessons From Chinese Billionaire Jack Ma

Have you ever felt discouraged when you consider your professional progress or financial state? Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has a few tokens of advice for you.

Ma is a Chinese internet entrepreneur who launched his first big endeavor, and many since, in the face of adversity or criticism. He was named Financial Times’ “2013 Person of the Year,” and is widely held as a symbol of the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit. While some of his insight may constitute a new approach more focused on the bottom line than others, there is no denying that his perspective is one that has proven staggeringly successful.

Ready to incorporate Ma’s approach into your management of professional and financial life? Copy those that resonate most with you on a notecard and post them on your computer, in your wallet, or at another location where you will see them regularly. You’re about to go on a wildly successful ride with Jack Ma.

1. Look far and wide for opportunity.

Ma categorizes those who fail as often being myopic to opportunity. Look across the professional and financial landscape with a broad lens first, considering all possibilities. Then, bend down to dig under every rock and in every nook and cranny for potential opportunities.

2. Treat every opportunity as an open door.

No chance is too small, too menial, or beneath you. When something lies before you, seize it. Grasp it with all of your strength, work this opportunity with all of your heart. Bring everything that you are to bear on this task. Do not treat anything as small if you want large results.

3. Seek understanding.

Work to understand both your current position and the position to which you aspire. What, exactly, are you working for? Why? What will it take to get you to where you want to go?

4. Act quickly.

Sometimes, the race does go to the swift. What most folks miss, however, is that being “swift” means bouncing back from failure, not necessarily running most quickly at all times. Acting swiftly can also mean being the first one out of the blocks when the gun goes off. When an opportunity presents itself, act.

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5. See beyond your circumstances.

No matter what your current condition, how or where you grew up, or what education or training you feel you lack, you can be successful in your chosen endeavor. It is spirit, fortitude, and hardiness that matter more than where you start.

6. Channel your ambition.

It is your job as a visionary to become single-minded in your ambition. Focus on your goal, work toward it, and never let it go.

7. Be courageous.

When Ma launched Alibaba Group, a highly successful group of internet businesses, he did so in the face of cautionary feedback from potential backers. There is a time for boldness, and in pursuit of your chosen ambition is that time.

8. Take chances in your youth.

If you are not rich by the time you are 35, says Ma, then you have wasted the opportunities of youth. Capitalize upon these young years, with their energy and imagination, by giving in to your ambition and the pursuit of it.

9. Unify your team toward a common goal.

You will never succeed in unifying every member of your team behind a single person. Ma estimates that 30% of people will always disagree with you.  Unite them behind an idea, cause, or mission, however, and you can harness the power of the team.

10. Make yourself replaceable.

Part of unifying behind an idea or mission is reducing dependency upon any particular individual, including the founder or lead boss. Cultivate the ideas, skills, and approach that you value in individuals you trust. When you move on, their leadership will ensure the continued success of that mission or idea.

11. Hire those with better technical skills than you possess.

If the boss has better technical skills than the employees, then they hired the wrong people. Workers should always be technical experts. Hire them, empower them, and let them do their jobs. They’re better at it than you are.

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12. Lead with vision, tenacity, and grit.

There are skills that are vital to successful leadership of any company or endeavor — vision, tenacity, and grit. A leader must be a visionary, able to see opportunity where others do not and acknowledge challenges before they come. A leader must be tenacious, be able to “hang in there” when a less determined individual would have long since given up. A leader must have grit, that ability to buckle down and do what is required in order to get the job before them, done.

13. Persevere.

Hard times will come. Challenges may be everywhere even at launch. Keep that founding vision in mind, and cling to it in rough waters as a lighthouse and guide. Your actions will inspire others to do the same.

14. Attitude is more important than capability.

It is your attitude that determines your altitude. Whether in smooth times or rough, successful leaders remain calm, confident in their mission, and focused on their desired outcome.

15. Savvy decision-making is more important than capability.

The most successful leaders are not always the smartest or the most qualified on paper. They do, however, surround themselves with extremely capable experts, turn to them for input, and make clear decisions. It is the decisions you make that will advance you and your endeavor forward one step at a time, not how qualified you are to move from square to square.

16. Money and political power cannot exist together.

Money and political power are mutually exclusive. One is the powder keg, the other, the match. Where both exist, an explosion will occur. If you are interested in both, pursue them consecutively, not concurrently.

17. Resilience is only understood after you have gone through hardship.

An intellectual understanding of resilience means nothing.  The capacity to be resilient means nothing.  It is only after having gone through hardships and having been tested, that an individual can be deemed “resilient.”

18. Your job is to be more diligent, hardworking, and ambitious than others.

There is a simple formula for success, every time. Be diligent. Work hard. Never lose sight of your ambition. Whatever form your endeavor takes, these principles hold true.

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19. Compete with grace.

If you treat your competitors as enemies, you will be seen as an enemy yourself. You will soon be surrounded. Instead, enter professional competition with grace, honoring your competitor and remembering that next time, the tide may turn another way.

20. Take all competitors seriously.

No competitor is a giant unless you make them one in your perspective. Treat all competitors with respect; treat your own business with respect. All have an equal chance of success when the competition begins. The one you overlook may be the one that beats you.

21. Behold yourself a giant.

Every large business started somewhere. Your business started somewhere. All deserve a seat at the table. Behold yourself equal to those you are competing with, and conduct yourself accordingly.

22. Winners do not whine.

While occasional poor spirits are to be expected, with the accompanying utterances of annoyance or dejection, regular whining is a sure sign of failure. All endeavors will bring hardships and challenges. How you deal with them will indicate the success of your business. Winners do not whine.

23. Customers are first; employees, second; shareholders, third.

As a leader, you only have a certain amount of time and energy. Give yours to those who enable your business, first — your customers. Those who make your business run come second — your employees. The shareholders are given attention and resources only after the first two have been satisfied. Many business owners spend all day, every day, catering to the shareholders. This resource allocation is not sustainable.

24. Forget about the money.

You did not launch your business or project solely for the money. You went down this path to build a particular lifestyle, or to meet a need of your soul and mind. If you focus on the money, you will make different decisions than if you focus on the journey. Walk the path you started down diligently, with ambition; the money will come.

25. Find the right people, not necessarily the best or most skilled people.

The most skilled people on paper are not necessarily the ones who fit best into your culture, or work best with you. The most efficient people on paper may not be those you trust most. Sparkling resumes do not mean that an individual can grow and evolve with your company. Find the right people, now. They are the best people. Their skills can be developed, as will yours.

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26. “Free” is a very expensive word.

When you give something away for “free,” you give away profits, as well as resources of manpower spent during development, implementation, and follow-up, and possibly intellectual property in the form of a great idea. Think carefully before you run such a promotion. Nothing is truly free.

27. A smart man uses his brain to “speak”…

The words that come from another’s mouth are not meaningful. Engage your mind. Utilize your intellect. Make decisions from an informed, grounded perspective.

28. … a wise man uses his heart.

Likewise, trust your intuition and your knowing. Making decisions from a place of faith can serve you exceptionally well, particularly with regard to personnel and when identifying strategic objectives.

29. We are born to enjoy life, not to spend it working.

The point of life is not to simply work, work, work, grinding away our bodies and our minds until we die. The focus should be on enjoyment, not only of your work but by creating time to play, relax, and enjoy those around you. If you work your life away, you will regret it — this is guaranteed.

30. Giving up is the greatest failure.

You will never know what you can achieve and accomplish, unless you try it. You will never know if your idea will “work” or if the business will produce, unless you stick with it. Adapt your ideas, change your strategies if you must, but never give up.

Craving more guidance? Check out these 5 Things The Richest Man in Asia Wants Young Entrepreneurs to Know.

Featured photo credit: epSos.de via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 21, 2019

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

“While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

4. Good leaders are students.

In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

“As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

6. Good leaders understand themselves.

I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

Final Thoughts

Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
[2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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